Black Business as Protection

Working Under Jim Crow

For African Americans during Jim Crow, starting a business required courage.

Durham’s Black Wall Street and other places like it in the country came to life during an era of racial apartheid. 

Trapped in servitude long after enslavement, most African Americans worked for white people on farms, in tobacco, or as domestic laborers. Starting a business offered an opportunity to escape poverty and debt to white landowners. 

Never forget that Durham is in the South and that around these 5,000 Negroes are twice as many whites who own most of the property, dominate the political life exclusively, and form the main current of social life.

W.E.B. DuBois, scholar and co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

White supremacist victories in the North Carolina election of 1898, the year of NC Mutual’s founding, rolled back black participation in politics for nearly a century. Black leaders championed business as an alternate pathway to freedom, away from white society. 

Business offered some protection from the injustices of Jim Crow. However, the threat of poverty and violence remained ever-present, even for the most successful.